Saturday, 9 March 2013

Visit graveyards in your ancestors locality...

Ripley village church nr Harrogate in North Yorkshire

I love church graveyards.

You may think me quite strange but they're often so beautiful and peaceful and are a great place to sit and meditate for ten minutes or a few hours.

Church graveyards are adorned with carved headstones, flowers and often have large yew trees casting shadows over the stones. The stone church buildings are also usually beautifully decorated with gargoyles and stained glass windows.

I like wandering through churchyards looking at the information of the people who lived there before us. Who they were, what they did, how old were they when they died, who did they leave behind them...?

A large Yew tree in Ripley Churchyard
You can often pick out the richer members of the community with their large carved headstones or monuments, unless of course they're buried in a tomb inside the building.

From wandering through the graveyards you can figure out the common surnames within the community, or the families that have remained in the same place for many generations. You can find out information about the locality, was it agricultural, or whether there was a certain industry that took prominence?

The gravestones can tell you a lot about the people buried beneath them, such as:
  • how much money they there a headstone? is it big or is it small?
  • their dates of death or burial
  • who they are buried with which can shed light on their closer family members
  • their dates of birth
  • how the individual died
  • who they left behind
  • how old they were when they died
  • their occupation
  • what sort of person they were

Old photo of my ancestors grave (circa 1897)
Finding the final resting place of your forebearers can give you a real tingle down your spine. I often stand and reflect for a few minutes, imagining the other family relatives stood around this grave side at the time of the burial and also later to lay flowers on significant anniversaries.

There are various ways of helping you find the graves of your family:

  • Searching through old paperwork to find newspaper cuttings, burial records, photos etc
  • Visiting the village graveyard
  • Searching online for an image or inscription, DeceasedOnline is a good website for this
  • The Church or authorities which run the Cemetery will have a map of all the grave plots if you want to find someone and there is no headstone

REMEMBER: Not all graves have a headstone.

One of the graves I have sought out was that of my great, great grandparents, John and Jane Davidson nee Redwood, who's story you can read about in Chapters 7 & 8 on the Davidson page of this blog.

Same grave as above approximately 110 years on (2011)

My father had come across the above old photo of a grave when searching through his grandfather's papers many years ago and after asking a few questions he established that it was at Hedon Road cemetery in Hull.

A few years ago my father and I returned to Hull for his aunt's funeral and decided to visit the cemetery to find this grave. Thankfully the original photo helped us search out the grave by its shape and size.

The trees surrounding it are now much larger and the stone a little greener than they were at the time of the original photo but the wording can still be read as clearly as 100 years ago. It is amazing how well it still stands especially as the cemetery took a direct hit in World War Two during the Hull Blitz.

Since I found this grave I have been able to take some other relatives to this site and show them the place where their ancestors also lie, one of the cousins wanted to clean up the stone work so perhaps next time I visit there will be another photo of a cleaned headstone.

We know that John's son, Edward was also buried at the same grave yard and we have the paperwork (see below) with the number of the burial plot on it but have never found a headstone for him. One day I intend on visiting the local burial board to see if they can help me find the location of his grave.

Document of the purchase of a burial plot at Hedon Rd Cemetery, Hull

To finish off I would like to leave you with this photo of a grave I saw at Ripley in North Yorkshire, as an example of how gravestones and their inscriptions do not always stand up to the elements for years to come...

A weathered gravestone

Have you any stories to share about graves you have found? Thanks for reading...

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hogan

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